The first movie I remember seeing with my mom was “Gunfight at OK Corral.”

It was a busy day at the Utopia Theater which was a small movie house. There were hardly any seats left by the time we got there, having walked from home. I had a non-driving mom who believed in healthy outdoor exercise.

Wyatt Earp at about age 33.

Wyatt Earp at 33. (Photo: Wikipedia)

We found a seat in the second row. Burt and Kirk had heads 20 feet high. It left an indelible mark on my mind. I became an O.K. Corral aficionado, catching each new version of the story as it was cranked out by Hollywood. When videotaped movies became available, I caught up with all earlier versions, too.

I stayed with “Gunfight” as my favorite for a long time. Maybe I’m just fond of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. Garry generally favors “My Darling Clementine” but he is a John Ford fan.

In 1993, along came “Tombstone.” One viewing and it was my favorite version of the gunfight story. A few more viewings and it morphed into my favorite western. There are a lot of contenders for second place.

I don’t love it for its historical accuracy, though It is nominally more accurate than other movie versions. It omits more than it includes, but if you are looking for accuracy, you should consider reading a book. There are quite a few written and some are excellent. The Earps were a wild and crazy family. Doc Holliday was even wilder and crazier.

They were a lot wilder and crazier than depicted in any movie made about them. They are always shown as lawmen, but in those strangely shady days, there was an exceedingly thin line between law enforcers and lawbreakers. The Earps fell on both sides of it, depending on which account you’re reading.

English: John Henry "Doc" Holliday, ...

John Henry “Doc” Holliday (Photo: Wikipedia)

They were all lethal and no more honest then they needed to be.

There were also other Earp brothers who are left out of the story, maybe because they weren’t in the peacekeeping business. Dad was a real piece of work and deserves a movie of his own. Although I tend to be prickly about historical details, I do not watch westerns for historical accuracy. There are just some genres that don’t work if you are searching for accuracy and westerns are a big one.

I watch westerns because I love horses, deserts, the great blue sky of the west, and dusty old towns with wooden sidewalks. Really, I will watch anything about horses. You could just run films of horses in a field and I’d watch that too.


Next, I love westerns because when I was growing up watching Johnny Mack Brown movies on the old channel 13 (before it became PBS) in New York, I always knew the guys in black hats were villains and the ones in white hats were heroes. It appealed to my 8-year old need for moral simplicity.

In westerns, revenge and righteous violence are good, clean fun. Not merely acceptable, but desirable. In the Old West, when you find a bad guy, get out the six-shooter, shotgun, or both — and mow’em down. Justice is quick and permanent. Without guilt. You can be a wimp in real life, but watching “Tombstone,” as Kurt, Val and the gang cut a swathe of blood and death across the southwest — I cheer them on.

“Tombstone” is deliciously violent. The gunfight at O.K. corral is merely the beginning. There’s a deeply satisfying amount of killing to follow. I revel in it. When Kurt Russell declares that he’s coming for them and Hell will follow … I am there. Yes, kill the bastards. It’s so cathartic!

Garry and I made a personal pilgrimage to Tombstone.

Tombstone shopping

I have argued with people who keep saying the movie was filmed on a sound stage. Unless everyone in Tombstone was the victim of a mass hallucination  — note that mass hallucinations are not nearly as common as Hollywood suggests — during which time a movie company rebuilt the town to look like historical Tombstone, then the movie was  filmed in “Tombstone.

I have pictures of Tombstone. We bought tee shirts. It was our favorite part of a long summer’s vacation in Arizona. Although there may have been some re-shooting on a set, the bulk of the film was shot in Tombstone. It was and remains the only thing of note to happen there in the past 100 years.

August was not the best time to visit, but our host worked. It was hard to find a good time to visit. The mercury climbed to 124 and never dropped below 120 while the sun shined. It was a heat wave, but heat waves seem to be pretty common there.

I think that’s why they invented awnings over the wooden sidewalks. It certainly isn’t to keep the rain off.

It was painfully hot. Maybe that how come everyone was shooting everyone else. Who wouldn’t want to shoot people living in that heat without air conditioning? It makes one cranky.

I don’t watch movies for a dose of reality. I have plenty of reality. I watch westerns for escape and entertainment. Westerns let me immerse myself in a kind of violence I normally abhor but somehow when they are shooting their 145th bullet from a six-gun, I forgive them.

Categories: Arizona, Marilyn Armstrong, Movies, Photography, Travel, western movies

Tags: , , , , , , ,

27 replies

  1. “They are always shown as lawmen, but in those strangely shady days, there was an exceedingly thin line between law enforcers and lawbreakers.”

    Apparently, to this day, things have yet to change.., except, now, the good guys have found a new way to erase minorities (Bad guys ) one at a time, from our precious caucasian society, and get away with it legally. My brother was a cop.., and a jerk, so I have little patience with that mentality. However, I do know that there are some good apples still in the barrel. Y’all come back now, y’hear.


  2. It’s funny, I had the same reaction as you. It was victory for the good guys while the bad guys got what was coming to them. I love the pics too!


  3. I had some fun at Tomestone. Despite the massive commercialism.
    But I really feel the government needs to step in and rescue many, many precious artifacts of American History that are being destroyed or have gone into private hands. This is a tremendously important American Heritage. I’d like to see an official government operated Museum at Tombstone and a committee established to recover as many of these precious materials as possible and properly preserve them for public display. Much has been lost already.
    As for the several movies on Tombstone and the OK Corral, I still don’t see any challenge to the massive Star Power of Lancaster and Douglas.
    Wyatt Earp (Lancaster): “Hold up your right hand. Do you solemnly swear to uphold… oh, this is ridiculous. You’re deputized. Grab some gear, I’ll get the horses.”
    ‘Doc’ Holliday (Douglas): “Wait a minute, don’t I get to wear a tin star?”
    Wyatt Earp (Lancaster): “Not on your life!”


    • I know they are beginning to preserve things and there is protection for both Tombstone and Old Tucson which are under federal protection. But given who is in charge, until we have a change of government, preserving anything isn’t going to be a priority. Fortunately, individual states are trying on their own.

      Arizona has improved HUGELY in the past couple of decades about preserving both the land and the history. When we were first there, they were building as if they’d never run out of land — or water. Not so anymore. They are being very careful about water preservation and you aren’t allowed to cut down the Saguaro cacti or any of the ironwood trees. So they ARE working on it.


  4. “Unruly children will be arrested and sold as slaves”….(FBL) full belly laugh (of course that would be me). I always went to the movies with my older brother. I don’t think I ever went to the movies with my mom.


  5. Ahhh.. the never-ending 6-shooters and White Hats vs the Black Hats, those were the days…. 🙂

    Nice to see Garry wearing his traditional Samoan dress!


  6. I often wonder how people and especially women managed in the desert heat. It must have been so uncomfortable in the type of clothing they wore. No wonder people were cranky, heat, dust, flies, dirt in everything. That part of the old west was not so romantic.


  7. As a kid I was a Western fan fascinated by Wyatt Earp and the OK coral – not bad for a Brit


    • It’s an interesting story, though how real any of it is? Depends on which books you read. I don’t really worry much about accuracy in westerns. I especially love when they shoot hundreds of bullets from their six guns and never need to reload. Amazing, eh?

      The real story of the Earps actually IS interesting. That was some family. And there were a LOT of them … not just the ones you see in the movies, but there were a bunch more of them, too.

      This is a really good book about those times in the west: I think it is the best one I’ve ever read.


  8. I’m also a horse lover and Westerns are my favorites, too. I often wonder how I would react as a plainswoman during an Indian raid on my ranch. I’d try to protect my horses and probably get a couple of arrows in my chest for my trouble.


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